Revelation (Part 35): The Beast vs. the Prostitute
With the encouragement to see things clearly from God’s view (“the mind with wisdom”), the angel proceeds to explain the imagery and what will occur. The first mention is of the seven heads of the beast. It is hard to turn aside from the notion that this describes Rome, and I’m not going to do so completely, but I think our understanding improves if we don’t keep that thought of Rome up front and center in our minds. It is hard to dismiss the thought because Rome has long been known as the city that sits on seven hills. And here we have the Prostitute sitting on this beast of seven heads, and we learn the seven heads are mountains. But even most interpreters who view the Prostitute, then, as Rome, distort the imagery by also viewing one of the seven heads of the beast as Rome. Further, the number seven is used throughout the Bible—and especially in Revelation—for symbolic significance. To argue first that the number seven has bazillion representations of symbolic significance, and yet here in this one spot to argue that it must be a literal reference to seven hills stretches interpretative sense beyond my ability to understand. Yes, Rome sits on seven small hills. These heads of the beast are said to be mountains, which also have symbolic significance through the Bible. Mountains are used to signify fortresses and kingdoms. And the angel speaking here tells us as much—these are mountains and kings (or kingdoms). So we have a symbolic number of completion in seven describing the collection of mountains/kingdoms of the beast. The picture shows us the Prostitute (human-focused society) resting upon the beast (idea of self as god) that encompasses all (completion number seven) of the kingdoms (mountains/heads) of history. If we limit this picture to only Rome, we mess up the intention of the vision and the whole explanation by the angel. I think Rome, of course, has a part in this, but the whole image is much broader than only Rome.
The angel continues to explain that five of the kings/kingdoms have fallen, one is, and one is yet to come. If we think of world kingdoms—especially those of biblical basis that are depicted as vying against God or God’s people, we do come up with five that have fallen: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. We also have the one that is—Rome. That leaves only one still to come.
Now, in naming these five fallen kingdoms, my point is not to take away from the all-encompassing nature of the passage. Sure we can name five kingdoms that stand out in the Bible as being against God and his people, but there were many other evil kingdoms in the Bible throughout the pages of the OT. And as we look back at history apart from the Bible, we see dominating kingdoms of Africa, India, China, and other areas of the world. The point, then, is that saying five have fallen is itself a symbolic reference not only to those specific five, but to all Godless world governments of all history.
The one world government that was currently in power while John wrote this was Rome. That fits in well with this whole vision. Rome is not the only world power in view in all this imagery, but it is a part of the image as it displays the same beastly—self-as-god—attitude as all the other world powers.
But what, then, is the one more to come? This other kingdom still to come shares something with the others. What it shares is the same mindset in establishing human-focused organization seeking to satisfy the innate desire for truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB) apart from God. As we look back over the last 2000 years, we have found this true of many world powers. What the angel seems to be doing in this case, with reference to this one more kingdom to come, is combining all post-atonement world government attitudes together.
Here is the reason for this understanding. The interadvental period (from Christ’s first coming to his second coming) is biblically thought of as the last days. God’s revelation for redemption and restoration had been progressively delivered ever since the Fall, and culminated with the first advent of Christ in his death and resurrection. That atonement won the victory—it completed the redemption plan. Thus, this whole period is viewed as one period—the gathering time of all who will be saved. OT imagery was always pointing to something greater than its literal self. OT Israel the nation pointed to the greater collective whole of all the people of God. The Promised Land pointed to the greater collective inheritance of the whole earth. Just so do the evil, godless, self-serving empires of the OT point to the greater collective whole of the evil state of the human-focused. So, then, this final kingdom is none other than all the godless governmental organization of this whole age as humanity continues to reject God although the whole of his redeeming revelation has been delivered.
Verse 11 tells us that the beast itself is an eighth king, but yet part of the seven. Holding on to our understanding of who the beast is makes this semi-cryptic statement not so difficult to understand. While these organized kingdoms and governments oppose God with their self-as-god philosophy, that self-as-god attitude is not found only in kingdoms and governments. It is found in every individual apart from God. If I reject God, I have that beast attitude in me. I am the beast as much as any government is. And therefore, that beast can be considered a separate kingdom (“an eighth king”)—the individual aspect of the self-as-god idea. And yet, that same beastly attitude is part of all the rest (“yet he belongs to the seven”).
Verse 10 had mentioned that this seventh kingdom “must remain for a little while.” As mentioned, this seventh kingdom encompasses this whole interadvental time period. But we also recognize that Revelation uses long and short time periods to indicate good and evil aspects. Short periods reflect evil; long periods reflect the good. We will be with God for ever and ever (22:5). We will have persecution for 10 days (2:10). For a thousand years, Satan will be bound (20:2). But Satan is released for a short time (20:3). So, here now in 17:10 we find this “little while” describing this entire age. Although this age (same literal length of time) is elsewhere described as a thousand years, the point of short or long indicates the good or corrupt aspect that occurs during that time. God wants us to endure through trials. That theme of Revelation to persevere through suffering is accompanied always by words telling us it won’t be forever—it won’t be long—just a little while. That reason is also why we read just a couple verses later in 17:12 that the kings of this age receive authority for only one hour.
We learn in verse 16 that the beast and kings will hate the Prostitute. Why would this be? Aren’t they all claiming the same basis: self as god? Yes, they are, but it is an impossible objective to accomplish in community. People may think they can band together with the rallying cry that self is god, but ultimately self will reduce to individual desire excluding community. Pure self focus will always ultimately destroy the partnership of self focus. And so it is that the kings of the world turn against the people of the world (Prostitute) when individual self focus is hindered by the desire of the other.
This idea is also the reason God uses sexual immorality to picture the human-focused. Sex in the context of marriage is two joining to become one in body, spirit, and mind. Prostitution is about the selfish, me-only care for pleasure. Thus, sex in marriage and adultery provide the perfect representation for the community of the God-focused versus the individual selfishness of the human-focused.
The chapter ends in somewhat of a paradox. We learn that the woman—the Prostitute—has an empire over the kings of the earth. But we had just learned two verses earlier that the kings hate the Prostitute and “make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire.” This picture is not contradictory. The kings of the world have nothing without the people they rule. So in a sense, the people own the empire or have an empire over the kings. Yet the kings rule in their power and wealth over the people. It is the contrary authority scheme of the world. Christ told Pilate his kingdom was not like that—it is not of the world.
Chapter 18 shows us the fall of the Prostitute. Verses 1 through 3 introduce this fall. The imagery of the Prostitute is that of an alluring, wealthy, and powerful woman. So the image of the fall is the loss of those things that made her alluring, wealthy, and powerful. But it is an image. The Prostitute represents the human-focused society. The human-focused society takes its strength from the belief that it can satisfy its craving for TGB in self. Thus, the image of the fall of the Prostitute is, in actuality, showing the fact that human-focused society fails at being satisfied in TGB.
When did this fall occur? Is it still to come? Many futurists equate the fall of the Prostitute with the destruction of all sin at Christ’s return. But that is not the image being presented. We get some hint from the angel messages back in chapter 14 that introduced this whole human-focused section. The first angel announces the gospel having come to the world (14:6). The angel also announces judgment having come to the world in 14:7. We understand that both the gospel and the judgment came as a result of Jesus’s death and resurrection. That victory provided redemption (gospel), and it provided a judgment over sin, death, and hell. But we know that gospel is still being proclaimed and actuated in transformed lives throughout this whole age. Likewise in discussing the bowls of judgment in chapter 16, we realized that although judgment came in the victory at the cross, it also continues through this age.
The second angel message in 14:8 was that Babylon (the Prostitute) “has fallen”—an announcement as if it just happened. And it had just happened again with the victory of the cross and resurrection. Thus just as the gospel came at Christ’s first advent and continues constantly throughout this age, and just as the judgment came at Christ’s first advent and continues constantly throughout this age, so did the Prostitute’s fall come at Christ’s first advent and continues constantly throughout this age. The desire for and striving for TGB by the world continue on. And just as assuredly, the failure to obtain TGB by godless society continues on.